Vince mentions Ringlemere. The two of us have talked of how the two sites appear - increasingly - to be associated. It may therefore be appropriate to mention more of Ringlemere.
Date: circa 1700-1500 BCE
Dimensions: 11.2 x 10.5cm
Amount Paid: �45,000 (Total: �270,000)
Vendor: Department for Culture, Media and Sport
Provenance: Found on land at Woodnesborough, Kent; declared Treasure in July 2002.
Description: The cup is made from a single piece of gold, hammered into parallel corrugations through the length of its conical body. There is an additional decoration of hammered dots around the flared rim. It is in one piece but has been distorted by a recent blow from a plough.
The Ringlemere barrow is an archaeological site near Sandwich in the English county of Kent most famous as being the find site of the Ringlemere gold cup.
As the find was reported by the metal detectorist finder, thus enabling the site to be properly excavated, this work has revealed a previously unsuspected funerary complex of Early Bronze Age date (approximately 2300 BC) had stood at the site. It is thought that the cup was not a grave good however but a votive offering placed at the centre of the barrow independent of any inhumation in approximately 1700 - 1500BC. No contemporary burials have in fact been found at the site although later Iron Age ones have since been found along with a Saxon cemetery.
Excavation work has continued at the site, funded by English Heritage, the BBC, the British Museum and the Kent Archaeological Society. This work has indicated that the now ploughed-away barrow was as high as 5m and had a diameter of more than 40m. The flat-bottomed ditch that surrounded it was 5-6m wide and 1.35m deep. Considerable evidence of much earlier Neolithic activity has now been found on the site including by far the largest assemblage of grooved ware in the county. Current theories now focus on the site having been significant long before and after the barrow being built and that the ditch may have been that of an older henge or, more likely, hengiform monument.
The Ringlemere Gold Cup is a Bronze Age vessel found in the Ringlemere barrow in 2001 by a metal detectorist. Although badly crushed by plough damage it can be seen to be 14cm high with corrugated sides. The cup resembles a late Neolithic (approximately 2300BC) ceramic beaker with corded decoration but dates to a much later period. Only five similar cups have been found in Europe, dating to the period between 1700 and 1500 BC. It is similar to the Rillaton gold cup found in Cornwall in the nineteenth century.
It is thought that the cup was not a grave good however but a votive offering placed at the centre of the barrow independent of any inhumation in approximately 1700 - 1500BC. No contemporary burials have in fact been found at the site although later Iron Age ones have since been found along with a Saxon cemetery.
The finder, Cliff Bradshaw, reported the find of the cup to the local coroner's office and through the Portable Antiquities Scheme and the Treasure Act 1996 the cup was recorded and declared to be Treasure Trove in 2002. It was bought by the British Museum for the amount of �45,000 (roughly $86,000 USD), with the money paid split between Mr. Bradshaw and the Smith family who own Ringlemere Farm. The money to secure the cup for the nation was raised through donations by the Heritage Lottery Fund, the National Art Collections Fund and the British Museum Friends. This also enabled the site to be properly excavated, revealing a previously unsuspected funerary complex of Early Bronze Age date (approximately 2300 BC) on the site
Ringlemere: The Nature of the Gold Cup Monument
Fieldwork at Ringlemere in Kent is casting new light on the original context of the gold cup discovered there in 2001
The fragmentary amber pommel
When an incredibly rare Early Bronze Age gold cup was unearthed by Cliff Bradshaw on a very slight eminence in an arable field at Ringlemere, east Kent, it was easy to jump to conclusions. The idea that the discovery had led us to a long-since denuded and consequently unrecorded barrow was quickly supported by the results of geophysical survey by English Heritage which revealed an annular feature - apparently the ditch encircling a barrow. Inspection of extant aerial photographs by Simon Mason of the Heritage Conservation Group, Kent County Council, moreover, showed that this monument was not isolated; at least three further ring-ditches were in evidence. When account was also taken of the grave contexts of the one British parallel in gold, from Rillaton, Cornwall, and some of those in other precious materials (amber, silver, shale), it could surely be deduced that the Ringlemere cup had been a funerary accompaniment, dislodged from its grave by recent ploughing. To cap it all, two finds of amber - a half of a pommel and a probable pendant fragment - both unfortunately from disturbed contexts, would be wholly in place in a �rich� Early Bronze Age grave group.
That the cup had been caught by modern agricultural machinery, perhaps in the course of periodic subsoiling, is still the most likely explanation for much of its damage. It was located at a depth of 0.42m, around the base of the modern plough soil, and the relocated findspot, once excavated, was found to be met by a deep plough furrow. There was no reason to question the likelihood that it had been hoicked out of a progressively truncated burial deposit. However, as excavations have proceeded over the ensuing two years, understanding of the character of the site has changed and has not lent any support to this straightforward interpretation.
Excavation of the barrow ditch has now confirmed that it enclosed an area with a diameter of 42 metres. This was clearly a large barrow. Our first trench, funded by English Heritage, showed the ditch also to be of substantial proportions, 4.60m wide and 1.40m deep, with a flat bottom. A remnant of an original mound was indeed found inside, surviving to a maximum height of 0.50m in the middle. Careful excavation of this remnant mound, however, yielded a surprising assemblage: considerable quantities of Late Neolithic pottery and flintwork, the former almost universally of Grooved Ware, with a few sherds of Beaker. Clearly, there was noteworthy activity on or close to the site some centuries before the cup was deposited, circa 1700 - 1500 BC. Not only was this material within the core of the mound, comprising a turf-stack, but more came from the buried soil beneath. Three subsequent excavations, two funded by the British Museum, one by the BBC, have only gone to reinforce this pattern to the point that just under 40% of the interior of the ring-ditch has already yielded 3500 sherds of pottery. There are also cut features associated with the old land surface, mostly shallow pits. Some contained impressively large sherds of Grooved Ware and one has yielded a date of 2890-2600 Cal BC (2 sigma; Beta 183862) on contained charcoal.
Despite this welter of Late Neolithic remains, not a single further artefact of full Early Bronze Age date (excluding a barbed and tanged arrowhead which could be earlier) has been recovered so far. Unburnt bone barely survives on the site, but grave-like features have been similarly elusive as have any cremation deposits, apart from a few scattered fragments of burnt ?human bone. By September 2003, when the fourth trench was underway, any former simplistic assumptions on the nature and history of the site were increasingly coming under question. As fate would have it, the stretch of ditch within this trench proved to have a terminal - there was an entrance facing north! The geophysics plots were too fuzzy to show this or any possible opposing entrance, but the possibility that this site originated as a henge monument, constructed during the third millennium BC at the time of Grooved Ware use, suddenly became considerably enhanced. Although the evidence is slight, some of the excavated ditch fills suggest that more material was slipping in from the outside than the inside, suggestive of an external bank appropriate to a henge monument.
Figure 2: A Cross-section through the ditch deposits
If the new excavated evidence makes more sense of the diameter and dimensions of the ditch as well as of the vast predominance of Late Neolithic finds, it still leaves intriguing questions to be asked of further seasons of excavation. Firstly, when was the internal mound constructed (the incorporated Grooved Ware might already have been old at the time) and what dimensions might it originally have had? Any assumption that it was large may be mistaken, especially if most/all of the ditch spoil had gone to form an external bank. In fact, another surprise discovery of the last season, a sunken floored hut of the early Saxon period dug into the outer edge of the mound, suggests that while advantage may have been taken of a still visible enclosure, the mound was already at that time a relatively low feature. Perhaps it was never substantial. Secondly, what was the original context of the three fine Early Bronze Age objects if they were introduced to an already ancient site? We still cannot rule out the insertion of a �rich� burial at a late stage of the period during which the site remained a focal point. The ring ditches nearby, now increased to a minimum of seven by survey work by Aaron Birchenough of Bournemouth University, are more modest in diameter and much more like a conventional barrow group; it would be surprising if no interments had been made in this monument complex during the Early Bronze Age.
The search for possible grave contexts will continue in 2004, but valuables in gold and other materials were not exclusively placed with the dead at funerary sites, as is clear from, among other finds, the gold armlets excavated as part of a small hoard on the edge of a mound at Lockington, Leicestershire, and the amber cup paralleling the Ringlemere cup from within the body of the mound of Clandon barrow, Dorset. If burial evidence is not ultimately forthcoming, then other exciting interpretations will need to be explored to account for the presence of the cup on an earlier ceremonial site.
Keith Parfitt & Stuart Needham